The following commentary by Dr. Jeffrey Spencer, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, was broadcast this morning on WYPR and was provided to Maryland Family by the medical center.
For expectant mothers nearing their due date, those last few weeks of pregnancy are filled with anticipation, excitement, discomfort, and stress. With thoughts about family visiting, work issues, or even fear of a large baby, many mothers today try to have their babies early. Some doctors may even suggest it for scheduling purposes.
In fact, the number of women with healthy pregnancies who electively deliver before 39 weeks gestation has been rising, and this trend is concerning. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal medicine have re-issued their long standing recommendation to delay deliveries until at least 39 weeks.
In some cases, it is medically necessary and beneficial for the mother to deliver before 39 weeks. But in the absence of such medical concerns, studies show that inducing labor before 39 weeks can cause health risks for the mother and her child.
Elective early delivery increases the risk of cesarean delivery, which may result in wound infection, anemia, and a longer recovery time. Having a c-section makes c-sections more likely for future pregnancies.
The last few weeks of pregnancy, even the last few days, are still critical for the development of the baby's brain, lungs, and liver. Deliveries before 39 weeks carry a higher risk of cerebral palsy, vision and hearing loss, learning disabilities, and death.
Reducing the rate of non-medically indicated early deliveries improves neonatal outcomes. As long as the pregnancy is healthy, there is no reason to deliver early.
To give babies the healthiest start possible, women with healthy pregnancies should listen to their bodies and let labor begin on its own. Talk to your obstetrical provider about the importance of waiting 39 weeks.